Can’t Complain

I am in pencil-sharpening-mode, but since Microsoft word has taken away the need for pencils, I have cleaned a bathroom, made our bed (supposedly people who make their bed are more productive) and brewed a cup of herbal tea to clear my clogged sinuses—and hopefully my mind. It’s not that I don’t know what to write about, it’s not knowing how to start.

Well, why don’t I plunge right in? I have observed in others—as well as in myself—that we’re not doing so well in the area of contentment. The older I get the more I understand why Jeremiah Burroughs called his classic: “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment” —even Christians have a hard time to be content.

Take for instance the phrase “Can’t complain.” According to this idiom means “to admit that things are mostly all right.” When I get (or give) that reply to a “How are you?” I really hear “I can’t complain, because I know I shouldn’t, but I would like to… if only you knew about my ongoing pain, my co-workers, how hard it is to make ends meet,” or whatever it is that we think gives us an excuse to not be content.

Christian Contentment

I realize that a good mood is not the same as being truly content. A good mood can be pulled out from under me like a throw rug and leave me dazed and wondering why I am down all of a sudden. As happened the other day when I was happily going about my business, till an email came in with a link to an article that left me feeling under-appreciated, missing out, neglected, and sorry for myself. How so? Because my life is mostly all right, but… This is obviously a far cry from Christian contentment as Jeremiah Burroughs defines it so beautifully:

Christian Contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to, and delights in, God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.

I am thankful that Paul says in Philippians that he had learned to be content in whatever state he finds himself. That gives hope of getting there someday. And I am even more thankful for the patient teaching of our Lord and Savior. I’ve found that when you seriously want to grow in contentment it is amazing how much of the weekly sermons and your daily Bible readings are applicable to this.

The Key

One sermon stands out, because I think it holds the key to becoming more content. It was a sermon on 1 Peter 1, where Peter writes about the joy these new Christians have in the Lord Jesus; they were not only saved, but kept safe till the final redemption, even though for a while they may be in heaviness because of all kinds of trials. Then in verse 13 he exhorts:  “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” To gird up the loins was to tuck the hem or folds of your long garment into your belt, so you had more freedom to move around and get some work done. It is as if Peter says: Get serious now about thinking; get rid of all the stuff that keeps you from thinking right. Think clearly, soberly, let the words of God influence you instead of the philosophies of this world.

Have We Forgotten?

Our minds are very much influenced by the world we live in. We’ve become so used to our affluent life styles. When the world says things like: “You need to look out for number one, no one else will.” We tend to agree. But our Lord and Savior says: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” That doesn’t sound as attractive to us. What is discontentment but thinking we deserve better? Have we forgotten what we are saved from? And saved unto? And what it cost our Savior? And do we really believe that we receive all things out of His loving all-wise fatherly hands?

How else but by thinking clearly and trusting firmly in his God could Job say to his wife after they lost all their children, all their wealth, and finally his health, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”

And how else could Joseph say to his brothers who feared revenge, “Fear not: for am I in the place of God? … Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good.”?

Of course being content with how God is directing our life, doesn’t mean that we cannot speak of our difficulties to a good friend or ask a pastor for help, or pray for healing or a solution to a grave problem. Paul spoke freely of the difficulties he had encountered, and how he longed to have someone visit him and fellowship with him in prison. Even our Lord in the garden of Gethsemane wished His disciples to stay awake and there He prayed to His Father that if possible this cup could pass Him. But there was always submission to the Father’s will “Because Thy lovingkindness is better than life.” Psalm 63:3

It Is Well

The Shunammite woman comes to mind; full of grief because of the sudden death of her only son, she travels with a heavy heart to the prophet, but still she says “It is well”. Isn’t that the truth? A Christian is well, even when the body is riddled with cancer; the retirement savings are all lost, or whatever is happening, because we are not our own but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ. (From the Heidelberg Catechism)


And of course that well known and loved hymn written by Horatio Gates Spafford is a wonderful illustration of true Christian contentment. Even though he just lost four of his daughters in a shipwreck, after already having lost a son to scarlet fever, and most of his real estate holdings in the Chicago fires, he wrote:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Here you can find the rest of the hymn and its sad but triumphant history.

So, how are you doing today? You can’t complain—but is it well?


Posted by Elina






11 thoughts on “Can’t Complain

  1. I have had Burroughs’ book on my shelf for a while, and I hope to read it soon. There are many days when I say to others, “I am just fine,” and I am, but discontentment lurks underneath the surface. We’re all very good at putting on a smiley face, but grumbling inside. Thanks for this post!

  2. This was well timed :)

    Discontentment is such an ugly thing to see in my own soul and also to see in other Christians. If we had the tiniest glimpse of what we really deserve, how horrendous our lack of contentment would seem. Have you ever had to speak to a Christian family member or friend about this? How would you go about it? Whilst aware of falling into it ourselves, how would you speak with someone who *really* displayed it in their lives. It’s such a bad witness to our loving Father, who bestows such gracious goodness on us, who deserve His wrath and curse.

    • Hi Anne,

      I agree, it’s a very ugly, sad thing to see in ourselves and other Christians.
      To answer your question: The only way I have tried to deal with a friend’s discontentment is trying to steer the conversation to the fact that “the best is still to come” or point out things that are graces in the midst of her suffering. Like loving children, good medicine, or (slow) improvement. Or, I turn the conversation to myself, and then speak of my sin in losing sight of what we’re saved from, and what we actually deserve, and how I still dare to complain.
      Now I have a question. What do you mean with “That was well timed”?

  3. thank you so much for mentioning Burroughs’ book which I read many years ago; I need to read it again NOW. I needed your refreshing thoughts to remind me that God is not dealing with me according to my iniquities, but is chiseling me for eternity. Oh, I need grace to say, “it is well, Father.”

    • We do Mary,
      contentment is not a natural fruit growing in the weedy garden of our soul.
      Praying for grace and strength for you and your husband in your trials.

  4. Thankyou for this post! Another reminder for me to be content in whatever state I am. The last 3 sermons I heard were on the topic of contentment and denying oneself. What a coincidence? No not a coincidence but timed perfectly by my Father in heaven. I am a slow learner. But I finally get it! It doesn’t mean that I need to rejoice in my affliction, but to rejoice in the Lord. Even in the midst of my affliction, I know He is caring for me. He graciously is reminding me daily!!

    • Thank you for your comments, Kathy.
      It’s so true that our heavenly Father is so patient and gentle in His teaching.
      Let’s keep our eyes fixed on our Lord!

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  6. Anytime I see a post like this I am convicted and cut to the heart about my tendency to “complain” when I dislike my circumstances, which is more often than I’d to admit.

    But I can’t help but wonder if “complaining” or wrestling with God is part of the process of learning how to be content or part of truly living as a human being. The reason I say that is I completely agree with that in the end there will always be submission to God because God is God and we are not and God always wins (that’s why we can wrestle); however, I can’t help but wonder if as Christians we try to accelerate the timetable on when that submission should be. Maybe I am reading into Scripture what I want to read from it, but it seems that Job, Paul and Jesus and others in Scripture didn’t arrive contentment immediately. Rather, they got there when they were supposed to.

    Curious to hear your thoughts!


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